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  • Writer's pictureSusanne May

Do business like Patagonia

Here’s how you put your company purpose into action.

Have you ever asked what motivates your team to come to work each day? If not, it might be an interesting question for you as a leader to dwell on. Purpose has gone mainstream in the last couple of years and become a business imperative. Researchers, authors, and businesspeople like Adam Grant, Martin Seligman, Yvon Chouinard, John Mackey, Richard Branson, and many more have promoted new business models which go beyond corporate social responsibility. In his 2014 book The Purpose Economy, Aaron Hurst believes that “the organizations that are doing well are the ones that help individuals to have that self-awareness about purpose and connect it to the organization's purpose.”

Research by Robert Ecceles, Leo Strine, and Timothy Youmas shows us that 9 out of 10 people are willing to earn less money if they feel their work impacts the world for the better. Moreover, 85% of purpose-driven companies show positive top-line growth. The figure drops to just 42% when looking at non purpose-led companies, says Hurst. When social impact is an important differentiator why do so few companies put their purpose into practice? It’s quite tough, as companies not only have to engage their employees, but also about inspire all stakeholders.

One of our senior consultants Viara Ivanova—a former banker from Bulgaria—eloquently explains what purpose in the workplace means to her. “I am a person, for whom purpose matters a lot. If there is no alignment or huge discrepancy between my purpose and the company one; I cannot thrive in such an organization. I cannot work for a company that is not ambitious to maintain and excel the integrity of its target markets. In other words, deliver impact beyond financials.”

Last year we applied an easy three-step formula to (re)vitalize our purpose to inspire our team, clients, and partners. One of the fastest ways to our purpose was to harken back to the most powerful stories from our existing work. Here’s what we did:

Step 1: Collect powerful stories.

Organize a (virtual) storytelling team workshop and appoint a team lead who facilitates a brainstorming pre-session with the team around the following questions: “What does it look like when we are doing our best work?” When team members are ready writing down their stories, merge all stories onto a Mural board and give it structure:

  • Circle: Look at the stories you have written down as a group and identify every time you mention a specific place or a person.

  • Square: Draw a square around any mention of your company making a difference.

  • Underline: Finally, underline the parts of the stories that represent change for better or good results from your work.

Step 2: Analyze the Big Ideas.

When ready, group similar ideas together and name and identify common ideas from your stories. Then label their “Big Idea” and craft your purpose statement that incorporates the Big Ideas. As last step, it might help to do a little benchmarking and compare your purpose statement with inspiring purpose statements from other organizations. Here are some examples we find particularly inspiring:

  • Patagonia: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

  • Asana: “To help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.”

  • Whole Foods Market: “Our purpose is to nourish people and the planet. We’re a purpose-driven company that aims to set the standards of excellence for food retailers. Quality is a state of mind at Whole Foods Market.”

  • Workday: “To put people at the center of enterprise software.”

Step 3: Connect your company purpose with your people’s heart.

Finally, let your people discover their own purpose with Richard Leider’s Napkin Test. This simple but effective 1-minute test helps people to discover their personal purpose. To find our purpose, or “calling,” we need to sum up our gifts, passions, and values. Gifts are our natural talents that we love to do each day, while our passions are our deepest interests. Lastly, values are related to place and culture. If you want to work in a place that values equality, then equality is one of your values.

Some of your team members may have never put some thought into these themes before. Therefore, it is important to provide further support with via coaching or psychometrics such as Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. Finally, each member’s calling needs to be visible for the others, fully understood by the leader, and linked to meaningful personal career development. The beauty of this is not only that team members gain much more clarity on what they really want to do in work, it also makes transparent how aligned your team is around the company purpose. This alignment resulted in an incredible motivational shift for our team by helping them believe in something bigger than themselves.

American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou beautifully illustrates the importance of purpose: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” With these words in mind, we cannot deny that our employees need to emotionally bond with what they do every day by connecting to a greater purpose.


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